In a brief interview with Maura O’Neill, Chief Innovation Officer and Senior Counselor to the Administrator at the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID), we discussed the creation of her position, pioneering examples of social innovation, and the role of social entrepreneurship in international development.
Rahim Kanani: How did your position of Chief Innovation Officer for USAID come about, and why is this role so important for the future of the agency?
Maura O’Neill: When Administrator Rajiv Shah became the head of USAID, he appointed the first Chief Innovation Officer because of his focus on identifying ways to drive faster, cost-effective development results that would last. This is important because former Defense Secretary Gates said it is a lot cheaper to achieve our US Foreign policy objectives to development than having to send our military troops overseas. Innovation can help ensure that our tax payer dollars achieve the best results.
Rahim Kanani: What are some model examples of innovation in development that you can point to and say, “wow, the world needs to know about this”?
Maura O’Neill: USAID pioneered innovations in development including the green revolution and oral rehydration therapy, saving millions of lives globally. Most recently, in partnership with mobile operators, foundations, and companies we have pioneered mobile money in Afghanistan and Haiti, and now working to bringing other countries on board. Most of the 1.8 billion people globally, without access to formal financial services, now have a mobile phone. Enabling them to use their phones to send and receive money, purchase goods, pay bills, or run businesses will be a major driver in transforming developing countries’ economies.